Podcast 22: What can we learn from our environment for gamification design?

Welcome to this week’s Question of Gamification. My name is An Coppens. I am the Chief Game Changer at Gamification Nation, and this week’s question of gamification is one I have. I suppose it’s in light of all the global politics that are going on everywhere. It made me question, are we just all part of one large strategy game by a certain amount of players? Before I go into that, I want to draw analogies to strategy games, and what’s happening around this, both in the world of politics and the world of business, because that’s how, A, I see business but also, B, I think there’s a lot we can learn from it. It also encourages you, and that’s my hope that I can inspire you to think critically.

Okay, if you were in charge of that game, how would you play it? What cards would you play, and what would winning mean? What’s the win condition? Is there a win condition, or are we just heading for a zero sum game where there are no winners, only losers?

I guess it’s probably out of I would say frustration or desperation. I don’t know. It’s a blend maybe of the two. As you know, I’m a European working a business in the UK, and with Brexit looming we have a workforce that’s all spread over the world. For me, being a global business was always the way I wanted to play the game. I never thought of my business as being just a British company. I actually always felt it was a company playing on a global scale, but now currently the strategy of the politicians is potentially pushing a major, I suppose, spanner in the works, let’s just say. It’s making me adjust my strategies in order to still continue to play the game I wanted to play.

Then I also wonder if I’m only part of the larger playing field. I mean, we’re a tiny company in comparison to some of the big names in industry, but in the end of the day we all have a role to play in the strategy game whether we’re a low-end small business or a high-end major player like an Apple, an Amazon, an IBM, a Google, whatever. We all have a role to play, but also politicians have a role to play because their sense of government’s lack of or insights and wrongdoings can have major impacts. I mean, trying to grow any business in war-based countries is no mean feat. Trying to do business when your company or country is at war with other countries is not so simple.

Very realistically, I’ve had one client refused a platform I advised to use because of the company or the country they were from. They said, “Well we can’t possibly, as a Muslim nation, do business with a company from that particular nation.” It’s real, and I would say an oversight by maybe or maybe not politicians in the UK is that EU companies will choose an EU company to do business with as opposed to a British company unless the British company is the cheapest one on the market and offering lower values, which if you think about, I suppose the EU as a governing body, it has a lot of good to offer. It offered the whole continent of Europe peace for nearly 50 years. It brought about lots of rules that are actually good for business, good for humans, and good for the planet.

Do we like them all of the time? Of course not. That’s the nature of rules. Just like in any game, we don’t like having to stick to rules and having some ways they may impede us from doing how we wanted to do certain things. Yeah. I mean, in a strategy game you will always pivot and choose a different strategy based on the feedback you get from the market, the feedback you get from the game, the choices that are left to you. In the current political climate, I’m having to make choices, and the first choice I made was to wait and see. Now with an impending leaving the EU or Britain leaving the EU after all, unless a general election comes up, which is also still a possibility, it may mean having to set up the group entity, increasing the cost space by having to do double accounting and double offices and double everything.

It’s a realistic choice, and until we have to, we won’t action it, but it is something we are researching. It is something that we are looking into. Why? Because I wouldn’t trust the UK government to get it right. Especially in the last three years, they haven’t got much right. It would need a drastic change for my mind to be changed on it. Hey, that’s me, just one person.

If we think about politics as a strategy game, then the question is who are the winners, and who are the losers, and at what level or how much dissatisfaction do you need to raise in order for the top to change their minds and adapt their strategy? I have a place I’m going with that.

If you look at the situation in Hong Kong, that’s one scenario. People are very unhappy and protesting consistently to change rules that they don’t like. Government so far hasn’t changed their minds. The question is how much dissatisfaction does there need to be before governments change their minds? If you look at the UK, the people are split on leave, remain, and anything in between. Some people are much more leave oriented than they ever were. Some people are much more remained than they ever were. Some people have switched sides, and it’s nearly like there is no such thing as a middle ground anymore. It’s like you’re either one side or the other side, and it’s effectively very polarizing. If you see what’s happening in the US, similar boats.

You know the leadership is very polarizing, and when we look at it from a strategic perspective, who are they playing with, and are they playing for personal gain, or are they playing for game and must, must win? Because right now it looks like politics is an ego game where there can only be ever one winner, and maybe that was where we made the rules, and we’ve made them wrong. It could be politics were politics way back in the day, and they’ve always been there, so there’s always been some influence or other that was good, some influence or other that was bad.

I would say having a think about, “Okay if you were playing politics…” One of my favourite games was Sim City. I played it a lot in college where you have to become the mayor and build up a city. Now, one of the things in the game, and it’s a resource management game so you have to manage the various resources from trade to natural resources to people, and if you didn’t do and build certain things, then your people would get unhappy and would actually start riots and would be damaging to your particular city.

I think in society we see the same thing happen, but a lot of people have lost, I suppose, the spirit of fight because nothing has changed for quite some time. Politicians for the world over haven’t proven that much that we need to believe in what they say, for one. For two, we still question if they’re in it for the greater good of all of us or rather for the greater good of themselves. I suppose that’s the fundamental question. Is politics just an ego game or is politics something that we need in order to manage companies, in order to manage countries, in order to manage the world? Have we maybe become, as part of globalization, maybe national governments are obsolete? Maybe it is a different construct that’s needed, but by having a different construct, we may have even less people in power, even more ego tripping.

Maybe there is a fundamental, I suppose, question we can’t answer, but it does raise the question at the same time. Where am I going with this? What does it have to do with gamification? Well, actually a lot and a little on both sides. Personally for us, see, or for me as a business owner, it has a lot of implications. For gamification design, I’m looking at this and sort of seeing, “Okay, so what game are politicians playing?” If I look at the Boris Johnsons and all his friends in cabinet right now, I see a whole bunch of self-serving and often not fair players in the game. If I look at the opposing party like a labour, I see player that haven’t really got a strategy. If I look at then maybe some of the green shoots that are popping out, you have extreme strategies. On one side, you have a Farage on the other side or Brexit party better. On the other side you have a Liberal Democrats who are very clear that they are a remain party.

You have I suppose some political parties have been forced to take a stance, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Then it’s up to us as people to choose, “Okay, who do we want to elect for us to be representative of our own ideology?” Now our own ideology, if you think about it, is always based on limited inputs, limited information. Just like in any strategy game and just like in business, you make the best decisions with what you know at any given time. You look for as many inputs as possible, but you’re not going to make the best choices all of the time. You will have some mistakes. You will have some wrong choices, but if I look at that in a leadership context, having a clear strategy in my view, and that’s my personal view, is probably better than to have no strategy at all.

If I look at the game Johnson played is, he had two strategies before going into either campaign. He could have gone remain. He could have gone leave. He went leave, and now he’s used it to self-promote, and he ran a very successful strategy. You have to give him that.

Is he going to make it? I’m not convinced because unless he makes it for the greater good of everyone including the EU, then I think he’s on a losing streak. But, hey. That’s only history will tell us that, and that’s not up to me to decide. I think there’s so many factors at play that I couldn’t possibly figure that one out.

But, if you look at it from a strategy play, he hedged his bets. He had two cards, and he chose one, and then he completely stuck with that strategy and went for it. You have businesses that do the same. They pick a strategy, they stick with it, and they execute.

I think where the previous government went wrong, they didn’t execute. One way of another, any maybe they didn’t have enough of a tactical plan to back up the strategy. Because in the end of the day, strategy on paper is only idealism in any case. But, strategy and execution and tactics, that’s where the games are played in a strategy game unless you take your team to battle and you actually battle.

The best theory is always on the sidelines, same with any soccer game, with any tennis game, with any card game. Unless you play the cards, you’re not in the game. So, we have to keep playing. We have to keep adapting and pivoting in order to stay in the game, and I think that’s only natural. It’s, I think, how it works.

But, yeah, in the gamification design perspective, a long-winded way of getting there, I often have to ask many strategic questions in order to crystallize why do people want gamification. Why do they want to use a game? What is the benefit in it for them, but also the benefit in it for the people? What does it enable? Do we do some gamification designs for marketing?

I always have to keep asking the question, what’s in it for the customer? Why would they want that? Does it help them, or does it impede them? Most organizations actually do genuinely want to have their customers feel that they’re being helped, that they’re getting places, that their goals are being met. Most companies are not ripping off people on purpose. And I say most companies. There are always outliers, just like in politics. You always have outliers who are in it for themselves and not for the greater good.

I think, as gamification designers, we do have an ethical obligation to ask those questions. We signed up to a code of ethics, which I’m very thankful for that Andrzej Marczewski put together. The code of ethics is to always be as inclusive as possible and to have good ethical thinking behind that.

Now, some companies drive that further than we do, or they refuse business of certain industry segments, et cetera. We take a commercial approach to most things, but at the same time, we wouldn’t do something to harm people. But we won’t also refuse companies unless they don’t pay us, for example.

So, there’s different strategic choices you always have to make. You can change your minds, of course, on most things. Maybe not as often as some of the politicians in the U.K. have done in the past three years. But, it’s interesting.

And I guess, from a corporate gamification design perspective, imagine your company setting a vote for a particular benefit or a particular rule or a particular practice that you want to introduce. You need to have a cut off point. Is it the 50-50 or 51% votes in favour? Do you take if 50, or should it be a 60-40 for it to be a clearer majority?

In university in Belgium, you passed at 40, but you got honours only from 60 onward. So, there is different grades, different rules. In some schools, you only pass with 50%. In some schools, it’s 60. So, you set the rules. We’ve worked on gamification designs where the pass rate was 70% because of the highly critical nature of what people were having to do in the role if they were pushing a job.

So, although politics is a bad analogy or maybe something, as a business owner, I shouldn’t engage it. But, if you follow me on social, you know where I am on that. So, I guess there’s no place to hide.

But I did want to draw it out to showcase, actually think about it. If politics is a game, then who are the winners and who are the losers and who are they winning for? What are the rules? Are they sticking to the rules? Are they just making the rules suit them some of the time and not some of the time?

So, if you think about it, the U.K. as an example, they were actually quite instrumental in drafting up a lot of the rules that the EU currently lives by. A lot of the great legislation has actually come from the U.K. as well. So, to then turn around and say, “Oh, we hate the EU because they have bad rules.” Well, that was quite a percentage that you proposed, and they accepted.

If you take away all of EU legislation out of the U.K. law system, you end up back in feudal days, so that’s quite a roll back. Do you really want that? Equally, if you take away the joint of nature of performing like a block of nations, in no game do I see a collaboration of 28 nations being less strong than one nation on its own.

Any gamer would tell you that. If you collaborate with a bunch of people, surely the sum total of everything gives you better buying power. It gives you better deals around. You also have more clout against certain individuals who want to rip off your society anyway. So, yeah, it baffles me that this is not seen. But, hey. That’s just me thinking out loud, I guess.

From a small company’s perspective, I join up with associations like [Ayuki 00:06:50] and Atiga because they represent our industry as in the wider gaming and digital enterprise industry and stand our ground in front of politics. Why is that important to me? Well, actually I don’t have a voice as one individual, but if I group together with all of the other small businesses in my space, we can hire someone that then represents the whole lot of us, and that, I do value, and I would encourage all of you to make sure that the associations that you’re a part of know what you want globally. And if there is an association that represents your industry but doesn’t actually lobby at governmental level, then question what they are doing for you because it’s usually much more of a self-serving scenario. So, question it.

So, from a strategy design perspective, politics is teaching us a lot right now. I would say look at it, think about it, learn from it, and then decide, okay, for my business, for my company, for my people, what would I want? If I’m doing a vote, should it be a 50-50 split, or should there be a bigger majority? If it is binding or not binding as a vote, is it just an opinion poll because opinions can be sought at any given time in employee engagement.

It’s one of the most favourite tools. People get asked the employee survey once a year or maybe more often. In some of the employee engagement tools, you get asked every five minutes. Mood analysis is a thing. So, I sure wish politicians would use that more rather than self-serving interests, but hey. Maybe they are using it. What do I know? I’m not a politician.

So, what I’m trying to say is we live in a very interesting time. I hope that as governments go and as businesses go, that we don’t turn back the clock so far in time that we end up in that horrible situation where we become worn torn nations battling because the generals of our societies have decided that that was a good idea. And for those countries already living in these conditions, speak to anybody that comes from there, and they will tell you the story.

I would say in the last number of weeks, I’ve had the honour, I would say, to sit in cars with people from nations where war is basically a fact of life, and people say, “Well, actually, there was no point. There was no future.” Is that what you want? Most of us actually don’t want that for our people. We want to give them a future. We want to give them a step up.

In our business, we have one gentleman who is a former refugee who escaped, but his family is still in danger. So, it makes you think. It makes you really appreciate what you do have, and yeah. I would wish for all gamification designers, game designers, and people in business and politics, to always think about the greater good of all of us as opposed to the greater good of me.

We all have ego talks at some point. We all do things that probably are more self-serving than self-serving for the greater good, but is that the right thing? And maybe it isn’t, and maybe that’s where we then need to pivot back and strategize for the majority as opposed to for a small minority, and in some cases, even a minority of one.

So, a bit of a reflective question of gamification. It was my question in the first place. I hope that you can appreciate where I’m coming from. I’m not aiming to transform your visions or your thoughts on which side of politics you should take. I’m just merely saying observe politics and observe what’s going on around you, and think of it, and I suppose take the higher level view. And so, okay, okay, if this was a strategy game and I was a player in it, would I play the same way or would I not? And because you’re actually impacting real consequences for real people, and if you’re a manager deciding to spend budget on gamification, this should be on your agenda too.

Then, consider deeply, who are you serving? What is in it for the people you are serving? Can you lift them up to their next level of greatness? In which case, great. If you can’t, then you need to question, is this the right step forward? Is this the right thing to do, or am I just sticking to a strategy because I chose to polarize, or I chose to go down one route and one route only because it suits me and my objectives?

So, I leave you with that thought. I hope you can enjoy the spirit in which it was said, and I hope to talk to you, probably a bit more business-focused next time. And I thank you for listening to A Question of Gamification.




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